Simon Kaye on the World-Changing Commons Research of Elinor Ostrom

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= report, articles, video on Elinor Ostrom

(all 2020-10)



"Ostrom is the intellectual hero of the community power movement. Her decades-long research confirms what many of us already believe, that people are less selfish – and more capable – than we’re conditioned to think. This has radical implications for how we run our public services and move forward as a society.

Dr Simon Kaye introduces New Local's major new piece of work: Think Big, Act Small, which unpacks her ideas, and presents their real, urgent lessons for the UK today."

About the Report

"New Local’s latest report, Think Big, Act Small, is an effort to bring the UK’s establishment to its senses. It draws upon the work of Elinor Ostrom – who won the Nobel Prize in economics for showing how communities can solve problems “beyond markets and states” – to unpack a series of insights about the conditions that allow communities to rise to meet the challenges that they encounter. The report argues that in many cases people-powered, local, and small-scale responses can outcompete privatized or government-run alternatives."

Executive Summary of the Report

Elinor Ostrom humanised the study of economics and politics. She discovered what is possible, and the problems that can be solved, when we trust each other. Her work inspires optimism, but she was also a realist, basing her findings on decades of tireless work in the real world.

This quietly revolutionary research led her to become the first woman to win a Nobel prize in economics. She demonstrated that people’s motivation and ability to cooperate, participate, and sustainably control their own resources are far greater than is usually assumed.

Ostrom’s work offers grounds for ambitiously re-imagining the relationship between people and institutions. It should inform and inspire policy debate about community power, devolution, public service reform, and organisational transformation.

This report draws out Ostrom’s insights for the UK in the context of a growing crisis in the relationship between people and institutions. It adapts and contextualises her work into a new set of practical lessons for ‘self-governance’ – where communities take control over the things that matter to them – and connects these with contemporary examples of community-powered projects in the UK.

It offers a new analysis of Ostrom’s key insights: that a different model, “beyond markets and states”, is possible in communities with high levels of autonomy and internal trust. Recognition of these insights could lead to more diverse and creative solutions to our problems.

The experience of mutual aid in response to the Covid-19 pandemic shows the power latent in our communities. Growing and sustaining it will involve learning Ostrom’s lessons for community power, with strong civil society and empowered, facilitative local government in place to safeguard community rights and act as guarantor for three key conditions: locality, autonomy, and diversity.

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